If you use a compressed air piping system, it’s important that you choose the right kind of pipes. While your construction manager will probably have plenty of expertise to offer, it never hurts to understand what you’re dealing with. Compressed air piping systems have one purpose: to deliver compressed air to another location. However, it has to be delivered with enough volume, pressure and quality to power the components using compressed air. Here’s an overview of what kind of piping is best for these systems.
Types of pipes to use(or not)
Different types of pipes offer discrete benefits. Here are some of the advantages and drawbacks of the most commonly used types:
- Aluminum: Aluminum might be pricy, but it’s lightweight, corrosion resistant and easier to fit than steel pipes. This is often a good choice for compressed air systems.
- Black iron: This is a material you should avoid at all costs. Black iron will corrode. This is not only bad for the pipes themselves, but it will also affect the air pressure quality. Choose another material for best results.
- Black steel: Black steel is one of the most popular choices. It’s strong and readily available, and most fitters can accommodate it. However, it is uncoated, which means corrosion can develop and damage pneumatic tools. Installation typically takes longer, and the connections are more prone to failure than others.
- Copper: Copper is an expensive choice, but it’s also good for compressed air systems. These pipes are lightweight, corrosion resistant and easy to cut. Because they’re used for plumbing and a number of other purposes, it’s easy to find connectors as well as contractors who can install them. As an added bonus, they are particularly attractive.
- Galvanized: Galvanized steel is corrosion resistant, but the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. The galvanized coating can flake off and cause blockages. The flakes may also damage your pneumatic tools—and if you’re using a blowgun, those flakes can cause serious injury. It’s not a good choice for your compressed air piping system.
- Plastic: Plastic pipes offer plenty of benefits, particularly corrosion resistance—you’ll never have to worry about pieces rusting and falling off the assembly. The interior never deteriorates, and they’re lightweight. Plastic is also easy to cut and connect, reducing labor costs. However, you can’t just use any type of plastic—it has to be strong enough to stand up to high pressure and lubricating oil. Polyethylene, ABS and HDPE are great choices for compressed air systems.
- Stainless steel: Stainless steel is heavy, which makes it challenging to install. However, it won’t corrode, unlike black steel. It tends to be more expensive, which is why it’s less commonly used in these types of projects.